by Heidi Klaassen
On Vashon Island, Washington, there’s a tree that’s famous for having grown around a bicycle. Despite a compelling story about a young man leaning his bike against a tree before going to fight in World War I, the truth is it was abandoned by a local boy in 1954. He’d received it as a gift after his family’s home burned down. He didn’t like the bike and abandoned it in a wooded area. Over the years, incapable of dislodging the object, the tree enveloped the bicycle, thriving despite the metal and rubber now incorporated with its phloem, handlebars jutting out through the tree’s protective bark. A wooden scar formed over the foreign body and the tree lifted the bicycle skyward, navigating around the detritus to find the sun and survive.
I minored in art at university. I spent two years in the art department drawing, painting, and sculpting. The studios were located on the top floor of a multi-story parking garage. Few people knew the department existed, outside of art students. Because of those two years, my understanding of the world is mostly through a lens of art. I came down from that parking garage with a solid grasp of human anatomy, a working knowledge of eastern and western religions, and an education in the history of the world. I loved art history and took as many classes as would fit in my schedule. But there was a glaring omission from the syllabus—we didn’t focus on a single female artist in those two years. Their absence from our education was not explained. In particular, despite being a master Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi was never mentioned.
Gentileschi was twelve years old when her mother died during childbirth. She grew up raising her three brothers and learning to paint from her father, artist Orazio Gentileschi. In 1610, at age seventeen, Artemisia painted Susanna and the Elders, a depiction of a young woman trying to escape the lecherous advances of older men. Around the same time, she was raped by her painting tutor, Agostino Tassi. With shame shadowing the Gentileschi name, Orazio went to authorities, and a seven-month trial ensued.
The judge ordered Artemisia be tortured to elicit a truthful testimony. Using a method called “sibille,” strings were tightened around the plaintiff’s fingers while she was questioned. Artemisia repeatedly maintained her truth. As a skilled female painter, she risked both her reputation and her future as an artist when she testified. As a man, Agostino Tassi was not required to undergo sibille for his testimony, despite having fabricated details about his early life, having been accused of raping one of his wives as well as his sister-in-law, and the likelihood that he’d hired someone to kill his wife, who had been missing for weeks. Artemisia’s voice, however, would only be heard if she withstood further harm.
In the end, the court found Tassi guilty. He was sentenced to two years in prison, which was later annulled. He was also ordered to leave Rome, a punishment that was never enforced.
Gentileschi’s most famous painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes (1613), was created in the years following the trial. In the painting, a virtuous biblical figure severs the head of a drunken Assyrian general, with help from her maidservant. There are generally two schools of thought on the timing and nature of this painting. The first is the obvious notion that Gentileschi painted the beheading as a form of therapeutic revenge. The second refuses the idea of vengeance and instead suggests this view reduces Artemisia’s remarkable artistic achievements to a single event. Either way, there is no doubt the trauma of sexual assault and subsequent public humiliation and torture were influential on her as a woman and an artist. This treatment, by both her rapist and the judicial system, would have been formative to Gentileschi’s personhood, at age seventeen. The only damage to Artemisia recognized by the court, however, was her devaluation as a marriageable female object.
We studied a different Baroque painter in art school, bad boy Caravaggio and his biblical period. His rendering of Judith Beheading Holofernes was discussed in detail, but nothing was mentioned of Artemisia. She has a brief appearance in the assigned art history text, describing her as the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a follower of Caravaggio’s. There is no mention of the trauma she suffered, nor how the fallout was an additional obstacle to overcome, above and beyond being a woman painter in seventeenth-century Italy. The book’s description of her states only that she had a “fundamental ambivalence toward men.”
I’m in grade nine. As part of the social studies curriculum, two Vietnam war veterans speak to our class about their experiences as soldiers. One is American, drafted straight out of high school. The other is Canadian, a volunteer. Like so many young people, he’d wanted to do something meaningful at a time when he felt disconnected from purpose and direction in his life.
I give the soldiers my complete attention. At fourteen, I’m obsessed with a war that ended before I was born—young men who were dropped into a foreign landscape, ill-equipped and ill-informed, fighting for people they knew almost nothing about. Barely out of childhood, these boys were thrust into a nightmare that would affect the rest of their lives, the legacy of trauma from this war palpable, even to a Canadian teenage girl who knows only what I’ve consumed in movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Casualties of War and Born on the Fourth of July.
I sit on the worn rug in my classroom, visualizing these men as younger versions of themselves, trudging through southeast Asian foliage, terrified and naïve. On a baseball diamond or in a gymnasium weeks prior, they came of age dodging landmines and showering incendiary napalm over bodies like their own. I imagine their departure from war, chronologically older by months, but psychologically ancient, their innocence a relic buried along with the blood and shrapnel left behind in Vietnam.
When the veterans ask if we have questions, my hand shoots up. I’m the keener at the front of the class, wanting more, needing to know the how and why and what of that time in their lives, the very different battle they fought when they returned home.
We go back to our desks and begin work on assignments related to the soldiers’ experiences. They mill around the room, fielding inquiries and making idle chitchat with the teacher. I’m fascinated by the idea of military conscription, the 2.2 million American men who’d been drafted into service between 1964 and 1973. I approach the US vet. My curious excitement is obvious, and I’m nervous asking an adult about his personal experiences. What was it like, coming home to a country that hated him for what he’d done, when he’d had no choice but to go? He pauses and looks around the room before leaning in, like he’s going to reveal something he hasn’t told anyone else. I’m wide-eyed with anticipation. He’s so close, I can smell the coffee on his breath. The middle-aged man winks and says, “You’re a real heartbreaker, aren’t you?”
I wore a uniform to school for six years. Kids think school uniforms are terrible because you have to wear the same thing every day, but I didn’t mind. I could never decide what to wear in the morning, so it saved me the trouble. It forced people to be memorable for reasons other than the labels on their clothing. My disdain for school uniforms grew out of experience. At bus stops and the mall, on the sidewalk downtown and at the pool hall after school, men catcalled us girls in kilts and ties. Grown men in landscaping trucks and BMWs leered at us and yelled from rolled-down windows. Men on the sidewalk made comments and craned their necks. That slow nod—when a man is imagining doing more than looking.
I never liked the music of Britney Spears back when she first became a sensation. I was busy listening to Pearl Jam and Metallica, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. The video for “Baby One More Time” used to piss me off. In hindsight, it was brilliant. Apparently, Britney came up with the concept herself. It played on every cliché about the schoolgirl fantasy, little plaid skirt and all. At the time, however, it perpetuated a fetish that directly affected my space in the world. As a girl in a school uniform, I was a pedophile’s wet dream.
In 2007, Britney Spears famously melted down and shaved her own head in front of paparazzi. When later asked about the incident, Britney revealed the need to stop people from touching her hair—hair that was constantly being manipulated, an inextricable part of the commodification of Britney Spears. The people making money off her didn’t like her erratic behavior, or anything that strayed from the image that was their cash cow. Soon after, she was placed under a conservatorship that allowed her father and a highly paid (by her) legal team to make financial, medical, and personal decisions on her behalf. For someone who had spent her childhood becoming an empire, with a network of adults profiting from her work, the head shaving incident made sense. If the exhaustion of being a human brand has become too much, the pressure to constantly be “Britney” overwhelming, you remove the image, or at least alter it to something unrecognizable, to exert some control over your own body.
Throughout the fourteen-year conservatorship, Spears was powerless. She had little to no agency. The medications she took, her reproductive freedom, her personal relationships, and even her choice of counsel were dictated by other people, mainly her father. She was deemed incapable of caring for herself or her children without supervision, but continued to work, to the financial benefit of those employed by her estate. This type of legal arrangement has historically been implemented in cases where someone is infirm, mostly elderly people who have lost significant mental capacity, not artists capable of rehearsing and performing seven days a week, headlining a world tour, choreographing complex dance routines, and recording music.
Britney’s conservatorship ended in November of 2021. Her sons are now sixteen and seventeen years old. She missed out on their childhoods as she missed out on her own. Like the rest of the world, her sons were exposed to the negative press around Britney’s behavior, and their relationship with her is strained.
Britney has publicly expressed feelings of sadness and loss, as a mother. The years she spent without control over her life, she still produced, creatively. She wasn’t allowed to produce a child with her partner, but she was forced to produce profit for those who kept her legally captive. She complied, believing her efforts would result in more time with her children.
Britney Spears grew up being pursued by parasites who fed a society hungry for evidence of her vulnerability. Her family insisted she smile through relentless scrutiny and condemnation, then silenced her when she deviated from their plans. “Baby One More Time” sounds different to me now. All of her music does. When she sings “my loneliness is killing me,” I believe her.
At eighteen, I work in a nightclub. I sleep most of the day, roll out of bed, and walk nine blocks from my apartment to my bartending job. After the bar closes, many of the staff stick around to play pool, smoke a joint, and have a few beers before stumbling home.
In the middle of a Canadian winter, my walk home is usually brisk, but tonight a pickup truck slows down beside me. I walk faster. When the passenger-side window opens and the male voices land bluntly on the cold night air, I don’t want to look, but instinct tells me to find out what I’m up against. Four faces leer at me, yelling and making vulgar sounds, describing actions, my body the reaction. I run, focused on the icy sidewalk, the ridiculous heels on my boots, good for tips.
They laugh at me running, at my fear, the terror of being chased by them. They find my vulnerability hilarious—dogs mocking a rabbit. I slip on a patch of ice and start to cry, tears freezing on my reddened cheeks, numb from the frigid night.
“Why aren’t you smiling, honey?” yells one of them, followed by more laughter.
I try to connect landmarks with my proximity to home, running faster. Tingling fingers fumble for the key, the truck now behind me, their voices pretending sweetness, pleading and promising. I open the door and step inside, close and lock it, watching them through safety glass. They gesture through the open window, their fingers acting out violence.
“You okay?” A voice from within the four-story walk-up has noticed the animals outside the door.
I can’t speak. I’m out of breath from running for my life to get home from my job.
I used to have nightmares about incarceration. It always struck me as the most horrible existence—knowing the world is out there and you’re not. The idea of being caged woke me up in the middle of the night and left me feeling empty the following day.
For a while, I had a pen pal on death row, in Florida. Pen pal is a terrible term for it, but that’s what the organization called it, the one that arranged for inmates condemned to death to write to people on the outside. Many of the men were convicts who’d been on death row for years. My pen pal was a poor, black teenager when he killed a white man during a robbery. He was middle-aged when we began corresponding. His execution date had been delayed multiple times. I stopped writing back after six or seven letters. I couldn’t go on telling him about the outside world he was missing.
Camille Claudel first discovered clay in her hometown of Villeneuve, France. The red earth was bountiful, and Camille’s grandfather had a large kiln for firing roof tiles. By the time she was a teenager, Camille’s talent for sculpture became apparent. She was encouraged by her father and had the privilege of an education equal to that of a boy. Regardless of medium, the measure of a great artist was perfection of the human form, a skill that couldn’t be achieved without access to nude models. The prestigious École des Beaux-Arts refused entry to women, but Claudel was accepted to study at the Académie Colarossi, a school that not only allowed female students, but also permitted women to work from nude male models. She was granted permission to wear pants instead of long skirts while climbing ladders and sculpting larger pieces.
Claudel later worked with Auguste Rodin, as his assistant, sculpting many parts of the figures to which he signed his name. She and Rodin became romantically involved, and their affair lasted many years, much to the disappointment of her mother and brother, who had never been in favor of Camille’s career or lifestyle choices. Rodin and Claudel’s relationship eventually soured when, ultimately, he refused to leave his common-law wife.
Camille’s artistic collaborations with Rodin had always been successful, but when their relationship ended, collectors and galleries had little interest in the provocative sculptures of a female artist. Claudel resented Rodin and felt he was stealing her ideas and hadn’t given her credit for the work she’d done on his behalf. Her status as a single woman in the art world resulted in a life of poverty and mental instability. Claudel fell into a state of destitution, paranoia, and self-destruction, supported only by her father.
When he passed away, Camille’s mother and brother did not inform her of his death. A week later, in March of 1913, Claudel’s brother committed her to an asylum, where he restricted her mail correspondence. She could only exchange mail with him. Despite an outcry from the press and multiple recommendations from doctors to release the artist as a healthy, capable adult, she remained confined by her brother for the rest of her life. In 1920, Camille was declared dead, but she was still alive in the asylum, silenced and cut off from the rest of the world. She believed, for years, that her brother was making plans to bring her home. He visited her seven times in thirty years.
She died in 1943 and her remains were buried in a modestly marked grave. Her brother did not attend the funeral.
Art historians have recorded Camille Claudel’s achievements as unrivaled, her skill equal to that of celebrated master sculptor, Auguste Rodin, who had a successful career until his death at seventy-seven.
I’m the youngest cousin on both sides of my family. I’m too little for everything and always trying to join games and conversations beyond my years. My one sibling is almost eight years older, and I often feel the loneliness I imagine plagues an only child. Whenever I’m included in an activity with the adults or older kids in my life, it feels magical.
At age six, I’m invited to play a board game with a group of teenage boys. I sit quietly on the beige shag carpet, waiting for instruction on how to play. Brimming with excitement, I wonder what I’ve done to finally be invited. First though, I have to prove I’m a big girl.
There’s a built-in shelving unit with a small cubby that houses TV trays. I squeeze in beside them when I play hide and seek, one of my best hiding spots as the smallest in the family.
This is where I crouch when I’m told to take off all my clothes. I stare out at the four teenage boys in tube socks, shorts, and t-shirts. One of them closes the door. Another does all the talking. The others sit there, waiting for the game to begin. Is this part of the game? If I don’t do as instructed, I’ll never be invited to play again. This is my only chance.
It’s so cold, my clothes at my feet. The boys don’t meet my eyes when I look at theirs. One boy whispers something to another. I don’t want to play a game after all. I put on my undershirt and panties, grab my dress, and run upstairs to my bedroom. This won’t be the last time I lose the game.
Years later, I’ll remember that cold feeling while throwing up my dinner. Without a voice, this is what comes out of my mouth.
I wasn’t instantly sold on A Room of One’s Own. I understood what Virginia Woolf was trying to say, but there’s an underlying assumption about privilege and opportunity. It puts the systemic inequity of gender in plain sight but doesn’t fully account for the disparity among classes. The piece didn’t click for me until I learned of the profound disadvantage plaguing Woolf’s aspirations, literary and otherwise.
Growing up in comfortable homes, Woolf had many bedrooms over her lifetime, but her space had been invaded early on and would never feel completely her own, after that. It didn’t matter how many rooms her family could afford.
Virginia and her sister Vanessa were sexually abused by their half-brothers, and she was outspoken about the silencing that went on—angered by the casual acceptance of something that was clearly damaging —affecting victims for their entire lives yet brushed off as a shameful annoyance in families. Woolf’s nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell, felt the abuse had spoiled his aunt’s life “before it had fairly begun.”
Woolf’s early writing provided clues to a past involving abuse. In a 2017 study on childhood sexual abuse in literature, Dr. Lenore C. Terr describes many of Woolf’s fictional characters as exhibiting symptoms of childhood trauma, the same ones manifested by Woolf herself, such as dissociation and sexual numbing. Later in life, Virginia Woolf wrote and spoke about the lifelong, debilitating consequences of childhood sexual abuse. She publicly addressed one of society’s greatest taboos, at a time when these topics were never discussed openly, if at all.
Some critics and historians are reluctant to accept these revelations about Woolf’s life and work. They find it impossible to conceive that such greatness could be diminished by something distant and seemingly non-violent from childhood. And yet, by Woolf’s own account, these events had a devastating effect on her.
In 1941, Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and walked into the river, ending her life at the age of 59.
My walk home from elementary school is relatively safe and straightforward. I don’t have to cross any major thoroughfares or trek through dangerous terrain. It’s a quiet zigzag along residential streets, a barking dog in the distance. In grade five, I mostly look forward to an afterschool snack, my dog, and my Barbie dolls. My dad works and my mom attends university. I’m feeling newly independent coming home to an empty house. I take the same route every time, something I’ll later be told is a factor in what happens next.
Our street rarely has traffic that isn’t local, and on this particular day, I have to wait for a pick-up truck to pass before I can cross. It turns around slowly in the cul-de-sac. I run across the street and down the path beside the garage, into the backyard where I retrieve the hidden key I’ve been instructed to use. I let myself in and lock the door.
The freedom is delicious. I can get a drink of juice from the fridge, take a cookie, or two—which I do. I meander around the kitchen, play with my dog, then decide to take my snack downstairs, where I can enjoy it with my Barbies in the small neighborhood I’ve created in the basement. Bookshelves serve as apartments, the olive-green shag carpet as front lawns.
My childhood home is beautiful mostly for the stained-glass windows my dad created when the house was renovated just before I was born. Colorful hues shine in, geometry patterning the floors and walls on sunny days. On the landing of the staircase to the basement, beside the back door, is a large spiral motif in stained glass. On this day, a man’s face is pressed up to the green pane. I stand at the top of the stairs, staring into his eyes. He stares back at me. Is this face familiar? I don’t know. I’m so still, trying to reconcile what I see. My brain picks through possibilities: Is he my brother’s friend? A friend of my parents? My imagination? This can’t be a stranger, just staring. That doesn’t happen. People don’t just stare into stained glass windows, green faces watching little girls.
I can’t catch my breath, but showing panic will somehow make things worse, my fear will make him more real. I decide to call someone for help, but not at the kitchen phone, behind me. I need a phone he can’t see. I step backward into the hallway and walk quickly out of sight. My hands shake as I set down the cookies. I’m still trying to determine if what I saw was real when I hear sounds. The knob on the back door is being manipulated aggressively, the door being pushed and pulled, scratching and banging. He’s trying to get in.
I pick up the phone. Crying now, I struggle to see the numbers through tears. My heartbeat feels as loud as the strikes on the back door. I can’t call 911. I’ve been told stories about kids crying wolf, calling the police over frivolous things and getting in trouble for it. They’ll never believe me. I barely believe it, despite the door rattling violently in its hinges as I dial my friend’s house. Her mom answers. I realize how hard I’m crying when she has difficulty understanding what I’m trying to say.
“Please come and get me. Hurry, I’m afraid he’s going to get inside,” I manage to blurt out.
She tells me to stay in the house and wait until she comes to the door. She will yell to me so that I know it’s her. They live near my school, a two-minute drive away. I hang up the phone and sit with my back against the front door, waiting to hear her voice outside.
It’s suddenly quiet. The pounding and rattling at the back door have stopped. I take a deep breath for what feels like the first time in hours.
The front door pulses violently against my back, a body pushing against the frame, the doorknob twisting and clicking. I cover my mouth, believing the less I’m seen and heard, the better. Tears well up and roll over my knuckles. Then, quiet. An engine accelerates down the street. A car in the driveway, and Mrs. Haynen’s voice.
Later that night, the police tell me I should have called them, that I will always be believed. I don’t believe them. They tell me I’m lucky. Things could have gone very differently.
The curtains in my bedroom are made from a sheer white material. I hang towels from the curtain rods, and later beg my parents for venetian blinds. I spend the next year running past uncovered windows.
As a teenager, I sometimes hung out at a jazz café. They served cheap coffee, and the atmosphere was dark and moody, like me and my friends. When it wasn’t busy, they let us sit there, smoking cigarettes for hours. I wasn’t particularly interested in jazz at that time, and the live music in this place didn’t inspire me. It was mostly white guys playing beautiful instruments with their eyes closed. I didn’t start to appreciate jazz until I listened to Billie Holiday.
When I was younger, it never occurred to me that Billie had been anything other than a legend. Her voice invoked images of a glamorous woman with a gift for music, a gardenia in her hair, singing in old-fashioned clubs with little lamps on the tables. She was Lady Day, and it seemed like she’d always been this larger-than-life figure. I didn’t know that she’d climbed out of a pit of adversity to make herself into that image, or that she’d fought every day to be able to share her voice. Billie described her own voice as having the timber of an instrument, the quality that gave songs like “Strange Fruit” an ominous tone, fitting for lyrics depicting the horrors of lynching.
As a child, she was raped by a middle-aged neighbor. She was seen as complicit in this violence against her and sent to a home for wayward girls. The theft of levity and childhood innocence left Billie with the weight of unresolved trauma. Like many who are burdened by the harm of sexual assault, the need to numb pain as a means of survival resulted in substance dependency. As a racialized woman, living in constant poverty with the mangled scar tissue of sexual violence, Billie had few choices, but she had that voice.
Billie’s influence and popularity were seen as a threat to white supremacy, thinly veiled as societal norms. Audiences requested “Strange Fruit” at every show, but Billie was ordered not to sing it, under threat of arrest. Her heroin addiction was the road in for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, whose commissioner—Henry Arslinger—was a known racist. After being arrested for narcotics possession in 1947, Billie spent a year in prison, just as her career was taking off.
In 1956, Billie performed two back-to-back shows at Carnegie Hall, promoting her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. This event solidified her legacy as an artist. But the authorities continued to control where she played, limiting her potential artistic and financial success. Carried over from prohibition, the law prohibited ex-cons from obtaining cabaret cards in New York, which reduced her bookings to establishments that didn’t sell alcohol. Again, Billie had few choices.
In 1959, she was hospitalized for cirrhosis and heart disease. Billie was arrested for narcotics possession and handcuffed to her hospital bed. In 1976, recalling her friendship with Holiday in her piece published in The New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Hardwick wrote: “The police were at the hospital bedside, vigilant lest she, in a coma, manage a last chemical inner migration.”
After ten days, Billie Holiday’s methadone treatment was abruptly ended as part of the FBN’s policy. She died a month later, at age forty-four.
I’m obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and have been since I was twelve years old. I’ve read every book I can get my hands on, watched all of her films, covered every inch of my bedroom walls with her image, and collected every calendar, card deck, Pez dispenser and coffee cup I can afford. On a road trip to California, my parents humor me with visits to her former house, her star on the walk of fame, handprints in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre, and her tomb at Westwood Memorial Park.
In grade ten, I’m invited to grad by my grade twelve boyfriend, an event that requires a new outfit and high-maintenance hair. I choose a cherry-red, cocktail-length Bardot dress. With my blonde hair swept into an up-do, I feel positively Marilynian. I wear an exterior that makes me feel beautiful and powerful, someone who will make people pay attention. As young women, we use so many disguises to become ourselves, and my undecorated self feels perpetually insufficient. Out of that dress, on another night with that same boyfriend, I’ll learn powerlessness in a waterbed—the word “no” meaningless, because I’ve said yes before.
I wear the red dress again to a wedding, weeks later. The dress makes me feel like the woman I envisioned when I played Barbies as a little girl or watched Some Like It Hot for the twentieth time. I perform woman instead of girl, finally becoming the person I’ve been creating. I don’t expect to find myself, at sixteen years old, on a dark hill outside a wedding reception, the best man’s hand pressing down on my sternum, his full weight crushing the air and screams from my lungs, red dress pulled up around my waist, stockings torn. I leave my body there on the grassy knoll. I’m terrified and embarrassed. I change the story into something I can live with.
Marilyn Monroe grew up with foster families. She never knew her father but fantasized that he was Clark Gable. Her mother was in and out of mental health facilities and couldn’t provide a stable home environment. Marilyn was sexually abused multiple times and was often moved to a new foster home because she garnered the “wrong” kind of attention, as a child. She was told she distracted the men in her life, that she was asking for it.
At age sixteen, Marilyn was married to her twenty-one-year-old neighbor, an effort to get her out of a foster home and supported by a husband. The marriage didn’t last long.
As a young Hollywood starlet, Marilyn was paraded in front of studio executives, along with other women vying for parts in pictures. In the forties and fifties, there was an informal “little black book” among studio executives, a ledger accounting for the lengths to which actresses were willing to go to secure a role. In the early, broke days of her career, she posed nude for fifty dollars. The image was sold and resold. It eventually became the first Playboy centerfold. Marilyn received nothing more for it, other than criticism.
Susan Sontag has said Marilyn’s image was “compliant-child-woman”, allowing men to conquer but also protect. This was her allure. As young Norma Jeane Baker, she was passed off because nobody wanted her. As Marilyn Monroe, she was passed around because everyone did.
Marilyn Monroe’s intelligence was underestimated. She was well-read and constantly working to improve her craft as an actress, but the roles she was offered were mostly as eye candy. She had a quick wit and cunning sense of humor, but her film characters were often one dimensional dumb blondes.
Despite her image as a powerless bimbo, Marilyn’s ties to both the Kennedy brothers and known members of the communist party made her dangerous in the eyes of the United States government. At the age of thirty-six, she was found dead in her Brentwood, California house. It was the first home she’d ever owned. The official cause of death was “probable suicide,” an overdose of sleeping pills.
Like her childhood homes, her estate, image, and personal items now belong mostly to strangers.
I start running at thirty-nine. I’ve always thought runners are masochists, but I want to know what draws them to the pain. I’ve been sober for six years and still need something to replace bottled oblivion. This feels right. I’m determined to be better at motherhood than alcoholism.
I run outside, across overpasses and along dirt trails by the river. I run inside, on my treadmill, because I hate the cold. I have a bad fall and nurse a gash on my leg, so I stay off uneven sidewalks. I get runner’s knee and learn to pace myself. Gradually, I go from hefting my body one kilometer to sustaining twelve without slowing down. My goal isn’t to be fast; I just want to be stronger than yesterday. I run alone, unwilling to talk in this dissociative state. Running is the new booze. It has the same effect—distance. I flood my ears with music, running until I feel the elation of nothingness, safety in those moments when my body has power. It feels like a purge. It feels like the only thing that can turn me around when I’m facing the wrong way.
Some days I run more efficiently than others. The cartilage in my hips has been prematurely worn away by extra bony lumps on my femurs. It’s called femoroacetabular impingement. The result is arthritis that’s made worse by running, something doctors discovered after four fruitless surgeries. The thing that makes me feel better is also making me feel worse, kind of like drinking. I have a hip replacement in my near future. I’m not supposed to run, but I will while I still can. Then, I’ll find a new way to move forward.
The famous bike on Vashon Island is now a tourist attraction. Over the years, its parts have been vandalized or stolen, acts that have revealed vulnerability beneath its symbolic resiliency. To maintain the tree’s unique outward appearance and popularity with tourists, people in the community have added parts back to the bike, in an effort to keep it intact.
Other items have been discovered incorporated into the growth of trees around the world—benches, traffic signs, ice skates, tombstones, and even a motorcycle have been documented. In a headline, the Daily Mail described these trees as “out-of-control.”
In 2013, a lumberjack in Edmond, Oklahoma, discovered another bicycle incorporated into a tree. He told local reporters that he was amazed by the discovery. He later went back and cut it down, then put the severed bicycle tree up for sale.
Heidi Klaassen’s work has appeared in Salon, The Calgary Herald, Westword, Living Hyphen, Alberta Views, The Sprawl, and various anthologies. Her personal essay, “Been Caught Stealing: Life Inside The Lorraine” was a finalist for the 2021 Digital Publishing Awards. Heidi is the executive director of the Creative Nonfiction Collective, a Canadian nonprofit. She lives in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, three sons, and three rescue-dogs. www.heidiklaassen.com